The local elections have given us the clearest demonstration yet of how UK politics is being realigned. The Ukip vote has collapsed and is moving in large numbers to the Tories. Combine this with the erosion of the Labour vote under Jeremy Corbyn, and places where you never thought the Tories would win are turning blue putting the Tories on course for a general election landslide. Who’d have predicted that the first winner of the Tees Valley mayoralty would be a Tory?
Almost as jaw-dropping was Andy Street’s victory for the Tories in the West Midlands, where Labour have 21 out of 28 parliamentary seats. What so excites the Tories about Street’s win is that they think that in office, he’ll be able to show what the Tories can do for the region. Certainly, the former John Lewis boss won’t have any trouble getting things out of central government—both the Prime Minister and her Birmingham born chief of staff Nick Timothy were keen for him to run and he has a close relationship with the Business Secretary Greg Clark. If the Tories can make the West Midlands an area where they regularly take a majority of the seats, it will become very hard to see how Labour can build a UK-wide majority again.
In Scotland, the post-independence referendum realignment of politics continues. The Tories are clearly emerging as the Unionist opposition to the SNP and these local election results suggest they will make significant gains there in the general election. The SNP also appear to be on the ebb; they failed to secure a majority in Glasgow where Labour lost control for the first time in 40 years. The odds on a second referendum taking place within the next five years are, certainly, longer now than they were a few months ago.
One dog that didn’t bark in these elections were the Liberal Democrats. Their national vote share is up, but they failed to make the kind of gains that would suggest they were on course to win back most of the seats that they lost to the Tories in 2015. Instead, Tim Farron is talking about doubling the number of their MPs—which would only take them to 18 seats. Given that they have the whole Remain 48% to pitch themselves to, this would have to be considered a missed opportunity for them.
The biggest enemy the Tories will have to fight against between now and June the 8th is complacency, a sense that a May victory is inevitable. But given that these local elections give May a bigger projected share of the national vote than Thatcher had before her ’83 and ’87 landslides, it does seem like the Tories are on course for a thumping majority that could confirm this realignment of British politics.
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